Browns should #freeJohnnyFootball

If Johnny Manziel's recent weekend trip to Las Vegas is any indication, the Cleveland Browns better start rethinking the leash they've tried to put on their rookie quarterback.

That franchise has tried incredibly hard to neuter Manziel, mainly so he can understand how best to fit in with an organization that has produced all of two winning seasons in the last 15 years. The Browns' attitude basically has been that Manziel needs to temper his high-octane personality as soon as possible. That approach also has been a full-blown mistake, and Manziel's Memorial Day weekend getaway offers just one more example as to why.

Let's not kid ourselves here: Johnny Manziel is not going to stop being Johnny Football.

He's too stubborn and too smart to surrender a persona that has turned him into the NFL's most popular first-year player. The more sensible strategy for the Browns is to ditch the tough talk and let Manziel be who he really is. If they actually decided to embrace that idea, they'd have a better chance of getting the most out of a quarterback who could be a star with the appropriate amount of support and trust.

Manziel's Vegas trip now leaves the Browns in the awkward position of having to answer questions about his behavior away from their facility. It also forces them to wonder how much he's hearing their message. Most of what we've heard from the Browns' power structure so far is a concerted effort to control Manziel -- owner Jimmy Haslam actually told him to act like a backup -- but that all sounds like inconsequential bluster at the moment. Those minute cameras caught Manziel partying over the weekend, and the meter that tracks Manziel-mania jumped substantially in a world ruled by social media.

It's not that Manziel did anything wrong by going to Vegas. It's that his actions completely exposed the Browns' strategy for the obvious waste of time it already had become. Nobody in their right mind thinks a fun-loving guy like Manziel is going to spend his entire life squirreled away in his study with his playbook and a pile of game films. At age 21 and on the verge of signing a multimillion-dollar contract, he's going to be the same hard-charging rock star that he's been since winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M two years ago.

The more the Browns mess with that side of Manziel, the more they risk not getting the player they traded up to select with the 22nd overall pick in the draft. It's simply ridiculous to ask Manziel to completely forsake who he is in order to fit into a nice, neat image of what a franchise quarterback should be. It's safe to say he isn't the first NFL player to party in Vegas or enjoy his stature as a professional athlete. It's even sadder to think the NFL has reached a point where this myth has been perpetuated that star quarterbacks don't enjoy their free time as much as anybody else.

One of the most revered quarterbacks in NFL history, Joe Namath, was an unabashed, hard-partying playboy. The Oakland Raiders won a Super Bowl with a signal-caller in Ken Stabler who never apologized for his raucous social life, while the Chicago Bears did the same with a quarterback Jim McMahon, who once strolled into his first public team function holding a cold beer.

For those people who would like to think the behavior of NFL quarterbacks has changed plenty since those days, we'll cite Brett Favre as a more timely exhibit. ESPN NFL analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer said fans would even be stunned to hear the off-the-field stories that have involved some of the game's most recognizable signal-callers.

That happens to be the biggest hypocrisy here. In trying to control Manziel, the Browns basically are buying into the same argument that every hater raises when it comes to this quarterback. They want to believe there is something wrong with a signal-caller who has plenty of confidence and swagger and a fun-filled life away from the field. When it comes to Manziel, that live-for-the-moment attitude is a big reason why he grew into a first-round pick in the first place.

To his credit, Manziel has done his best to meet the wishes of his employer so far. He's said all the right things in press conferences. He's done his best to be humble in practice as well, where his main goal obviously has been to learn quickly and fit in fast. Browns head coach Mike Pettine seems to have noticed those efforts, as he was quick to praise Manziel's attitude after the team's first rookie minicamp.

The problem here is that the Browns don't need Manziel to be humble or considerate in the long term. They need him to be good. They need him to be a leader. They need to him take control of this lousy team -- one that has failed to find one reliable starting quarterback since it was reinstated to the NFL in 1999 -- and make it a relevant entity again.

The only way Manziel is going to do that is by being the player who sent a text to a Browns assistant coach on draft day saying that it was time for Cleveland to bring him to Ohio. That also happens to be the same person who spent this past weekend taking photos at a party with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, attending a UFC fight with Dana White and spraying champagne around some swanky night club. Those might not be the same life choices that Tom Brady or Peyton Manning would ever make, but that's fine. Not everybody in the NFL has to follow the same blueprint for success.

Manziel is doing the things he needs to do, and it says here that he's never received enough credit for the work ethic that has brought him to this stage. The Browns now need to recognize that it makes no sense to overthink how best to handle their star quarterback. It's already a safe bet that Vegas will see Manziel many more times in the years to come. The bigger unknown is when the Browns will see the value in allowing Manziel to be true to himself as he eventually becomes the face of their franchise.